indian cinema heritage foundation

Save Dada

  • Real Name: Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar
  • Born: 15 March, 1868 (Bombay)
  • Died: 20 February, 1958 (Bombay)
  • Primary Cinema: Hindi

Well-known cinematographer Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar, popularly known as Save Dada, is acknowledged as the ‘Father of Indian Factual Film’. His first short film came in 1899, whereas Dadasaheb Phalke’s feature film Raja Harishchandra released in 1913, 13 years later. Save Dada’s films were reality films, better known as documentaries. Acknowledged as the first Indian to create moving images in India, he was inspired by the Lumiere Brothers, who pioneered the motion picture. Starting off as a portrait photographer, he acquired a motion picture camera from London. He went on to create India’s first film, a documentary called The Wrestlers (1899). It was a recording of a wrestling match at Bombay’s Hanging Garden. Save Dada went on to make short, silent, black and white documentary films such as Man and Monkey (1899) which depicted the training of monkeys, Atash Behram (1901) on the renovation of the fire temple, and Landing of Sir M M Bhownuggree (1901) on the life of the British Member of Parliament of Parsi Indian origin, and also covered the Delhi Durbar, the coronation of Edward VII in 1903 in Delhi’s Coronation Park. In the later years of his life, he also served as manager of Gaiety Theatre in Bombay. 

Born Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar on 15 March, 1868, and a resident of Bombay, he started his professional career as a portrait photographer. Besides a studio at Kennedy Bridge, Bombay, he also had a business dealing with cameras and film equipment. He was very popular, and affectionately called Save Dada. Around the time, the famous Lumiere Brothers had received praise in Paris in 1895 for their new camera, Cinématographe, which could capture motion. They went on to screen six of their films in India at the Watson Hotel in Bombay in July, 1896. Bhatavdekar, who was a photographer and photography equipment dealer, did not miss the rare opportunity to see a new type of technology. He attended the screening and was utterly bewitched by the magic of the motion picture, the technology of which had been dubbed as the “miracle of the century” by The Times of India at that time.

Awestruck, impressed and inspired, Save Dada decided to make such films in India, himself. He immediately ordered a cine camera and projector from the UK. With the arrival of his equipment, he went on to make some films on day-to-day, slice of life, vignettes of the city as well as of some important events. He created the country’s first film The Wrestlers (1899) which was a recording of a wrestling match in Bombay’s Hanging Garden. Not a feature film like Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra (1913), this was India’s first short documentary or a factual film. For this he is acknowledged as the ‘Father of Indian Factual Film’. The Wrestlers, the first film by an Indian filmmaker, had been sent to the UK for processing, and then brought back to India. During this time, Save Dada also bought a projector and screened foreign-made films.

Save Dada’s later films—short, silent, black and white documentary films—were also reality films. While Local Scenes (1901), Sir Wrangler (1901), and Delhi Darbar were of historical significance as they showed important personalities like R. P. Paranjpe landing in India from a ship, and also showed the proceedings of the Delhi Durbar (Delhi Royal Court, 1903). He also filmed Lord Curzon at the coronation of King Edward VII in Calcutta in 1903. He can thus be considered as the first documentary filmmaker of India, and his films, India's first newsreels.

His filmography includes The Wrestlers (1899), Man and his Monkeys (1899) which showed the training of monkeys, Local Scenes: Landing of M. M. Bhownuggree (1901) which showed the life of a British Member of Parliament of Parsi Indian origin, Aash Behram (1901) which showed the renovation of a Parsi fire temple, Sir Wrangler Mr. R. P. Paranjpe (1901), and Delhi Durbar (1903). His Delhi Durbar was a short documentary, which showed Lord and Lady Curzon on an elephant at the coronation of King Edward VII in Calcutta. In 1911, he also made Coronation Darbar in Delhi which showed the coronation of King George V as the Emperor of India. This film is considered to have historical significance. While the event was mainly covered by Robert W Paul Company with approximately 30 cameras, it was also shot by Save Dada, and was another milestone of his career. Interestingly, Save Dada’s presence at the Durbar is also documented in Beyond Sovereignty: Britain, Empire and Transnationalism, c.1880-1950: “Bhatavdekar moved from wrestling matches to historical events of somewhat greater national significance, producing and screening short films on subjects like the Delhi Durbar of 1903, which marked the enthronement of Edward VII as Emperor of India.” Sir Wrangler showed the return of the mathematics scholar and Minister of Education in Bombay Presidency, R.P. Paranjpye from Cambridge, England and his landing in India by ship. It can be considered as the first Indian news film. 

In the latter phase of his life, Save Dada became the manager of Gaiety Theatre in Bombay. Later he sold his assets and equipment to Karandikar of S N Patankar’s company, before retiring from cinema. Save Dada passed away on 20 February, 1958. Bhatavdekar’s family name was also changed to Save and his descendants live in Yari Road, Mumbai. His name remains etched as the first Indian to make a film (motion picture) in India.